Saturday, May 3, 2014

Showtimers' Dancing at Lughnasa Is Simply Superb

I have no idea how many live theater productions I've seen at the Showtimers studio in Roanoke County over the past 40 or so years, but I don't recall one as high in quality throughout as the current run of Brian Friel's "Dancing at Lughnasa," directed by the estimable Michael Mansfield.

If you want to gauge where theater is in the Roanoke Valley at this moment, this production is just about a perfect example of what has happened in the past few years. "Dancing" is ballad, a difficult, touching, funny, sad and thought-provoking piece that requires people who know the craft to turn out a good product. And this one is good.

From Mansfield's thoughtful touch to John Nicol's simple, elegant set, to the effective lighting and the solid acting by a group of local veterans, this production left me proud and delighted at the state of theatrical production in our little valley.

The story revolves around the small lives of a group of Irish women and the men around them. I want to pick out one or two of these actors and tell you to concentrate on her/him, but I can't. It is mostly a veteran group--even the young ones--and these, without exception, understand what Friel is saying.

If there was a weakness in the production, it is with the dancing, but the fact is that these women are not supposed to be polished dancers. Their dance is an expression of their joy and hope, despite their isolation and the smallness of their lives. So, this one's forgiveable.

Amanda Mansfield (the director's wife) is likely the best actor working in Roanoke, but she does not completely steal this production as the family matriarch, Kate, a woman so full of Christian judgement that she becomes annoying quickly. Janemarie Laucella, whom I have not seen before (she teaches kindergarten in Franklin County), draws much of the attention with her delightful Maggie, whom she plays with delightful energy. Young Allison McKinnon is a rookie, but you'd never know it by her delivery as Christina, the confused young mother of a "love child." Emma Sala, a freshman at VWCC, has been around a good while and it shows. She's the vulnerable teenager Rose. Stevie Holcomb shows up consistently in the best local productions and is always solid and sometimes outstanding, as she is here.

The men, Joel Gruver as the rake Gerry, Gates DeHart (who taught theater at North Cross School for many years) as the doddering sent-home missionary Jack, and Spencer Meredith as the young boy Michael who narrates but is never really seen with the others, round out the strong cast.

Let me note that the Irish accents throughout are impressive to my ear (and to my heritage).

I can't say enough good about this production, but what it tells me about theater in the Valley is far more important than its strength as a single production. That just tickles me to death.

Good going, lovely people. Your show is marvelous (and it's selling out, so those reading this might want to get your tickets now).

"Dancing at Lughnasa" runs Wednesday through Sunday ending May 4. Seats are $12 and can be reserved here or by calling 540-774-2660.

No comments:

Post a Comment